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Writing Bloc’s Best of April 2019: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads April 2019 Edition. Welcome to our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of April, we hear from Michael, Jacqui, Becca, and Robert.

Michael’s Pick for April: The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Yes, I know, it sounds strange to recommend a popular series that sold over 23 million copies and was turned into four high-grossing movies, but hear me out. I first read The Hunger Games when the first wave of buzz crested, and when I read it, I lumped it in with the Twilight series (which I don’t personally care for). I think I did this because their popularity and their target audiences seemed to overlap, so I was curious as to what all the buzz was about. The buzz was probably part of what put me off. I think I was expecting a perfect novel the first time—my head wasn’t in the right place. I was ready to criticize the book at every page, and most of my criticism was undeserved, although, I still stand by my opinion that a lot of the names in these books are ridiculous. (I mean, “Peeta?” I keep hearing Lois Griffin’s voice from Family Guy saying this when she’s saying “Peter” in her accent.)

This time around, I picked up the novel because one of the stories I’m writing has a young female protagonist, and I was looking for recommendations for comparison novels. Enough people recommended The Hunger Games for me to give it another chance. And I’m glad I did.

Is it perfect writing? What is perfect writing, really? It’s told in first person present tense from the perspective of a teenage girl in the midst of a cruel dystopia on the brink of an uprising, so it’s written in an appropriate tone. I appreciated the writing this time around, enough to get over the horrible names. (Plutarch Heavensbee…for real?)

All in all, I fell into the story. It’s well-paced, gripping, and, once I finished the second book I realized that it’s also carefully planned out. The Hunger Games series has impressed me like no other story in that I’ll admit that I got it wrong the first time. I wasn’t in the right headspace to appreciate these books, and now I am, which is a much better and happier place to be. I’d much rather be a person enjoying stories instead of criticizing them. Suzanne Collins helped convert me from a critic to a fan. I’m happy to say I was wrong.

Jacqui’s Pick for April: Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn


“Why is it every time a madman’s prayers are answered, a witch burns?”

I’ll start with full disclosure: J. Danielle Dorn is a fellow Inkshares author, so I may be a bit biased. That said, Devil’s Call is sinister, satisfying, genre-bending read unlike anything I have ever picked up and I highly recommend it.

Billed as “The Revenant with witches,” Devil’s Call is part horror, part western, part feminist revenge soul candy that, if you are anything like me, will have you fully enthralled.

Written as a raw, first person confessional to her infant daughter, Devil’s Call follows protagonist Li Lian, as she avenges the death of the child’s father. I devoured Li Lian’s journey in just a few days, and can’t recommend enough this tale by a truly original voice.

Becca’s Pick for April: How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace

This tiny book is a quick, inspirational read, which started as a zine and sticks to its roots. I purchased this book after hearing Grace speak on the WMFA Podcast on finding balance in one’s life as a creative person. If you read this thinking it will be an end-all, be-all guide, you will be disappointed. If you read this like it’s a conversation with a kind, reflective friend, you will be thrilled.

The book includes some short exercises to help readers reflect on what in their life is work and what is relaxation, as well as the gray areas where those overlap. I found it helpful just to think about, which is Grace’s point– she’s all about the noticing. In line with its origins as a zine, the book includes some things that might seem random to those not familiar with the genre– a section on herbal infusions, an appendix with relevant poetry. I enjoyed all of it, though, as well as the feelings of nostalgia tat the format inspired.

This is a nice read for folks whose work and pleasure are overlapping, as many authors’ are. Come to it prepared to walk away without any conrete “answers” but wth a renewed commitment to self-care and self-compassionate productivity.

Robert’s Pick for April: This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

Kate Harker and August Flynn’s families rule opposite ends of Verity, a grisly metropolis where violent acts summon real monsters: bloodsucking Malchai; clawing Corsai; and soul-stealing Sunai. The truce that keeps the families at peace is crumbling, and August is sent to spy on Kate. But when Harker’s men try to kill her and pin it on the Flynns, August and Kate find themselves running from both sides, in a city where monsters are real…

This Savage Song is another powerhouse from Schwab and I loved every second of it. Prior to this book, I’d read her Shades of Magic series, which is a stunning urban fantasy trilogy, and I was excited to dive into a different Schwab world. This Savage Song did not disappoint.

Set in a grim world of the future, where the US has separated into independent territories, the story takes place mostly within V-City; a territory divided in two by a shaky truce. It is a city where violent acts give birth to literal monsters. Where some monsters dream of being human. And some humans are… well, monstrous. In the middle of this we meet two youngsters on opposite sides of the divide, who despite everything, forge a connection and must learn to trust each other. The characterizations are deep and wonderful, the world gloriously dark and unique, and the plot sucks you inexorably toward the epic ending.

This Savage Song is the first of two books.

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Best Of Lists This Month's Reads Uncategorized

Writing Bloc’s Best of February 2019: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads February 2019 Edition. Welcome to the seventh post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of February, we hear from Becca, Jacqui, Cari, and Michael.

Still not sure what to read next? Check out Writing Bloc’s 2019 Writers as Readers Challenge.

Becca’s Recommendation – Lipstick Brigade by Cindy Gueli

In Lipstick Brigade: The Untold True Story of Washington’s World War II Government Girls, historian Cindy Gueli brings to life this important part of World War II history. I have a professional interest in these 100,000 women who moved to Washington D.C. to fill important clerical positions: my novel, Rock of Ages, follows a Government Girl. My interest is also personal. My beloved grandmother was one of them, classifying fingerprints for the FBI.I picked up Gueli’s book as research, hoping to make my own book as historically accurate as possible, but ended up feeling more deeply connected to my grandma, who passed away two months ago.

Gueli explains the political and personal forces which drew the women to the nation’s capital, an important government and military hub. She describes in detail their often monotonous jobs, the crowded and expensive living conditions in the bustling wartime city, the sexual and social traditions the women challenged, and the media portrayal of Government Girls that the real women contended with. She does it all with an eye to the influence of gender and race. Gueli is an excellent historian and an engaging writer.As I read about beauty seminars hosted for Government Girls, I began to understand my grandma’s fascination with Avon products and saw the time she took me for a makeover in a new light. She brought with her the experience of being a 19-year-old woman from rural West Virginia, on her own in a big city for the first time, learning beauty standards. 

Reading about the cost of various amenities in D.C. at the time, I was able to make more sense of the letter my grandma kept detailing her raise and of her story about her $25 a month room. My grandma’s independence, patriotism, resourcefulness, and fashion sense all make more sense to me after having read this book. At a time when feeling close to my grandma is especially meaningful, I am grateful. My novel, too, will no doubt benefit from Gueli’s extensive knowledge.Readers interested in 1940s history, labor history, and feminism will certainly enjoy this thorough, readable book.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Beartown by Fredrik Backman

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil.”
― Fredrik Backman

Ever since reading A Man Called Ove years ago and absolutely loving Backman’s style, I’ve had several of his books on my to-read list, but they kept getting pushed to the back-burner for some reason. I think because deep down I knew that when I chose to enter another Backman book, I wouldn’t come out unscathed. There are certain authors that you know can wreck you, leave you reeling for days. Fredrik Backman is apparently one of them for me, and he is quickly becomming one of my favorite authors.

It’s hard to explain what exactly it is about Beartown that resonated so deeply. On its surface it’s a story about a hockey team and a devastating event that rocks a small town, but it is so much more than that. It is a story about the many, often contradictory, layers we have as humans. It is a story about the sometimes-toxic world of sports and tribalism. It is a story about snap judgements and self reflection. Highly recommend.


Cari’s Recommendation – Duped by Abby Ellin

Author Abby Ellin almost married a con man – she tells her story in this part-memoir, part-fascinating fact book about liars. While there are other books out there about liars and their motivations, this one stands out because of its strong storytelling and clear, engaging style. Highly recommended for writers – if you’re looking for a reasoning behind your deceptive character’s motivation, you’ll be able to find it here.

Michael’s Recommendation – Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

I recently found Octavia Butler’s work thanks to friend recommendation. She was a powerhouse in science fiction, and all of her works are worth praise. Most of her stories feature complicated characters exploring issues that mirror current events, and her characters are rich and diverse, unlike the campy science fiction stories she fought to counterbalance. This recommendation is truly for Octavia Butler’s entire catalogue. From Kindred (1979) to Fledgling (2005), you can’t go wrong with any of her stories.

The reason for specifically pointing out Parable of the Talents is that it shows some of the author’s uncanny ability to predict future events by exploring her world at the time of her writing. Parable is actually a sequel to Parable of the Sower, and it was written in 1998. Part of the story features a dystopian take on a future America featuring a presidential candidate hellbent on controlling the population by use of virtual reality and shock collars. This power hungry candidate also used an interesting slogan to push his agenda: “Make America Great Again.” Yes, she wrote this in 1998. Now go read her work. Unfortunately, we lost this literary giant in 2006, but thankfully she left a lot of work behind for us all to marvel at and enjoy.

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